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English Premiership: Richmond back in contention

In a thrilling game, Richmond reduced the gap at the top with a win over Saracens while at the bottom, Aylesford Bulls won their first game of the season.  Saracens lead by four points but Richmond have a game in hand. 

Aylesford Bulls Ladies 17 Darlington Mowden Park Ladies 15

Aylesford Bulls were deserved winners of their first game in the Premiership since being promoted last season.

It has been a tough road for Aylesford, but in awful weather conditions they finally picked up their first win. 

DMP raced out of the blocks looking to spread the ball at every opportunity despite the elements being against them, but an early scrum showed signs of how the game would progress as DMP where shunted off their own ball. However for now the Bulls had trouble gaining possession as DMP recycled well. Pressure eventually told as inside centre Rebecca Scholes crashed over from short range on 12 minutes. DMP were soon back in Bulls territory and a short range snipe from scrum half Fiona Davidson put them 10-0 up.

DMP kept looking to run the ball and current England captain Katie McLean spotted a gap to ghost over from fly half on 25 for what looked like a convincing 15-0 lead. 

Bulls hit back with a try from Florence Williams on the stroke of half time, which she converted to get her side right back into it. 

Despite having the wind and driving rain in their faces the second half belongs to the Bulls with the ball being kept tight and driven up field well. 

Notable gains were made from ex-England captain Catherine Spencer & Samoa hooker Laura Levi, when the ball did reach the backs Williams often fed Springbok centre Janine Felix whose powerful runs troubled the DMP defence and set a good platform for more forward drives. 

The breakthrough came on 53 minutes when blind side Megan Snape crashed over following another series of short drives. DMP briefly came back into the game but loose kicks were easily fielded by Deborah Harwood who carried the ball back with interest and the Bulls were once again able to build solid platforms and work back up field. 

With time running out the Bulls set up camp in the DMP 22 and once again they struggled to contain the scrum & driving line outs, on 76 minutes with a large number of DMP players sucked in veteran 2nd row Angela Smith picked & drove over for her first Premiership try and put the Bulls in the lead for the first time this season. The Bulls held out for the last four minutes for the final whistle to claim their maiden Premiership win.

Richmond 14 Saracens 13 

In the game that was always going to have a huge impact on the league title, Richmond took the win by the narrowest of margins after a fantastic contest.

Richmond scored first in this tough game. Wave after wave of attack was sent back by Saracens before second row Molly Kinsella dived across the line and Abi Chamberlain, whose kicking was superb in the game, converted in tricky conditions to make it 7-0.

Richmond continued the pressure before Tash Brennan crossed for their second try with Chamberlain again converting to give Richmond a 14-0 lead on the half hour mark.

Saracens then found themselves with a sustained period of possession in the Richmond half but some dogged defence meant the only reward was a penalty from Sarah McKenna just before half time. 

The second half was a somewhat scrappier affair with the pressure exerted by both teams causing errors. The game continued at the ferocious pace with incredible work at the breakdown by the openside flankers Hannah Field, Richmond’s player of the match, and the incredible Maggie Alphonsi. 

It was Alphonsi who finally broke the second half deadlock with a try in the 65th minute to make it 14-8. Richmond looked like they were starting to tire from the constant pressure of Saracens allowing scrum half Leanne Riley, Saracen’s Player of the match, to sneak under the defensive line to score in the 75th minute. McKenna was unable to convert leaving Saracens one point behind at 14-13. 

The final few frantic minutes were a special treat for the large watching crowd as the two best sides in the country give everything to the match. There was desperate scrambling for loose balls, kicks to touch before time was up and the Richmond scrum giving everything it had. With the press box privy to the referee’s time calls and almost unable to watch the tense finish, Jo Watmore put the ball in touch to give Richmond a valuable win. 14-13.

Worcester 14 Wasps 5

In a game played in atrocious conditions on a very heavy and rain affected pitch, the home side came out on top, the score not reflecting their dominance and possession. 

The game started in a hail storm, with swirling winds, followed by driving rain and freezing temperatures which restricted any chance of flowing rugby as cold hands and strong cross winds made handling and kicking an air of unpredictability.

The home side spent the majority the first 40 minutes in the oppositions half, and thought they had scored from a driving maul after 16 minutes, but the referee did not feel able to award the try.  Wasps were battling well in defence and subsequently presented Worcester with penalty opportunities, however, given the unpredictable wind, Ceri Large opted for catch and drives, but these proved fruitless. During this period Rochelle Clarke was imperious.

Worcester’s constant pressure was eventually rewarded after 38 minutes when a driving maul enabled Karen Jones to score, with Ceri Large taking the extras.

Both teams returned to the changing rooms for soup at half time!

Wasps started the second half in livelier manner and for ten minutes posed some questions for the Worcester defence, however, the home side came back, changing the focus of a forward dominated game and making good use of open space with excellent runs from Lydia Thompson, Samantha Bree and Stephanie Johnson. Claire Purdy and Charlie Veale were prominent in attack and defence for Wasps.

Worcester increased their advantage on 54 minutes with typical scrum half sniping try from Jenny Mills, who is more accustomed to playing in the back row. Ceri Large again took the extras and the home side now appeared to comfortable placed to add to this lead.

There were periods of pressure from Worcester, heart stopping moments, but all successfully thwarted by a determined Wasps side, who eventually gained some reward for the resilience with the best score of the game. A maul was formed on the twenty two and Wasps marched all the way to the line for the hard working Charlie Veale to score, but Rebecca Rowe was not able to convert.

Worcester continued to pressurise, without further reward, until the final whistle brought welcome relief from the conditions for players and officials alike.